Wallabies turn to experienced Genia

2015-09-22 20:18

Cardiff - Will Genia was being hailed as the best scrumhalf on the planet in 2011 but as recently as six months ago, it looked touch-and-go whether he would even make the Australia squad for a second crack at the Rugby World Cup.

Three years of injury, including a knee reconstruction, and mediocre form had reduced him to third choice at best behind Nick Phipps and Nic White in the Australian pecking order.

On Wednesday, however, the 27-year-old Papua New Guinea-born halfback will be in the gold number nine shirt when the Wallabies face Fiji in their tournament opener in Cardiff.

What changed, according to Wallabies attack coach and former flyhalf Stephen Larkham, was his attitude.

"We had camps throughout this year during Super Rugby and when Will came into those camps you could see he was really switched on," he told reporters on Tuesday.

"You can tell that he's been building for this campaign. It has been up and down, because combinations outside him haven't quite worked and it sort of reflected badly on his game.

"But I think he's in the right frame of mind and certainly physically, he's in a good spot at the moment."

After a fine World Cup campaign and a world player of the year nomination in 2011, the problems started for Genia when he damaged ligaments in his right knee in 2012.

He returned to face the British and Irish Lions in 2013, when a trademark break set up Israel Folau for the opening try of the series, but thereafter his form dipped considerably.

The pass became laboured, the once electric snipes around the fringes were more often than not telegraphed and the booming box kicks lacked in purpose and execution.

It did not help that the Queensland Reds, who Genia helped to the 2011 Super Rugby title, had degenerated into a dysfunctional outfit under Richard Graham.

The Reds pack improved this year, however, which meant he was not always going backwards when he received the ball and there were more flashes of the Genia of old.

He got his first test start since 2013 in the opening match of the Rugby Championship against South Africa and then watched from the sidelines nursing another knee injury as White and Phipps squandered opportunities to claim the number nine shirt.

Genia reached the 60-cap mark off the bench in Australia's final warm-up against the United States, which under the new eligibility rules means he will now be able to continue his test career when he moves to Stade Francais later this year.

It will be in an unfamiliar partnership with flyhalf Bernard Foley that he starts Wednesday's Pool A clash, but his experience should help Australia settle into their campaign.

"He's a guy who's got really good input across the park," said flanker Michael Hooper. "He brings a wealth of knowledge and his presence is huge within the group."

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